7 Jul 2022


Polypharmacy and the Elderly: Risks and Benefits

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Polypharmacy refers to the administration of multiple medications to a patient. It is a common issue among the elderly patients. According to statistics, nearly 40 percent of the elderly patients living in their homes use multiple drugs (Cantlay, Glyn & Barton, 2016). The number of drugs that qualify to be defined as polypharmacy is a subject of continuous debate. According to medical professionals, administration of between two to 18 medicines is what is referred to as polypharmacy. Usually, simultaneous administration of several drugs presents more problems than benefits. As this may lead to drug-drug reactions that might cause harmful effects. Health professionals, therefore, closely monitor health conditions of the patients and terminate the administration of medicines whose use is no longer necessary. 

There are various drugs which are contra-indicated for the elderly patients because of the patients’ weak immune system. These are drugs which would worsen the conditions of the patients if administered. In cases where the elderly patients contract diseases which require treatments with these drugs, suitable alternative medicines are recommended. But if an alternate medicine is not available, the contra-indicated remedy will have to be administered. In addition, another medication which prevents the patient from overreacting with the contraindicated medicine should be administered to keep the patient in a stable state (Cantlay et al., 2016). Therefore, the patient will be on multiple drug therapy. 

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When it comes to the elderly, Arthritis is one of the most common diseases that causes disability. As outlined by the research conducted by Cantlay et al., (2016), about 52.5 million adults were reported to have various kinds of arthritis. With this disease, the treatment would require the prescription of multiple drug regimens. The regimens include anti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics, corticosteroids, or biological therapies. Also, patients with arthritis might have other co-existing medical conditions. All these conditions will make the patient to be on multiple medications. The research by Cantlay et al., (2016) also shows that elderly female patients are mostly affected by polypharmacy as compared to their male counterparts. This can be attributed to the fact that elderly females are more susceptible to old age medical conditions than their male counterparts. They will, therefore, require multiple drug therapies to treat the conditions, putting them at risk of drug-drug or drug-disease unwanted interactions. In the long run, they would be faced with more challenges yet the treatment is meant to make them get better. It is, thus, vital that the medical physician understand the medical background of such patients in order to give proper prescription. 

As outlined by Golchin, Frank, Vince, Isham and Meropol (2015) , polypharmacy is associated with increased mortality rates among elderly patients, increased incidences of disabilities and hospitalizations. Because the patients have reduced immune systems, their body defense against certain infectious agents is, therefore, reduced. Such patients tend to develop complications from simple diseases that heal easily. For example, simple infections can develop into complications that require hospitalization. To treat all the opportunistic complications, the patient will be put on multiple drug therapy. Some of the drugs administered to treat a particular disease might react with other medications to cause harm to the patient. Other drugs also react with other diseases, to increase the disease’s manifestation. Continued administration of such drugs leads to the advancement of another disease. Therefore, the patients who require multiple medications need to be on close monitoring by a doctor. 

To reduce the risks of polypharmacy, health professionals need to come up with intervention plans. Currently, the most common intervention involves terminating the use of certain medicines. The termination process begins by assessing a patient’s health to identify the drug whose use puts the patient at more harm than good (Cantlay et al., 2016). For elderly patients, continued use of such medicines makes them become frail. Secondly, some drugs have the ability to treat multiple diseases. Before prescribing more than one drugs for related medical conditions, the prescriber needs to explore the options of giving a single regimen with the ability to treat the presenting conditions. Thirdly, various diseases have multiple numbers of drugs that can treat them. Different medicines have diverse chemical components which make them to react differently in the body. The prescriber, therefore, needs to examine the patient’s medical history to determine if a given drug can cause adverse reactions when given to the patient (Golchin et al, 2015). 

There is a new method used to reduce the risk of polypharmacy. This method is called “team approach”. The methodology combines many health professionals who come together to suggest the best possible medication therapy for a patient. The team usually includes a pharmacist, nurse, counselor, physical therapist, and a primary care provider. When all these people combine their ideas, they will provide the best medical care for the patient and reduce the risks of administering multiple drugs (Golchin et al, 2015). Therefore, the risks associated with polypharmacy are real and need to be checked. As much as treating the elderly is important, the prescription of drugs ought to be considered to avoid cases of polypharmacy. In this case, a medical history of the patient would be the best guiding tool that would inform on the drug regiment to be administered in order to avoid any complications. With regard to all this, it is the responsibility of the person taking care of the elderly and the medical attendant to ensure that the elderly are not bombarded with many drugs that would affect them negatively instead of healing them. 


Cantlay, A., Glyn, T., & Barton, N. (2016). Polypharmacy in the elderly. InnovAiT , 9 (2), 69-77. 

Golchin, N., Frank, S. H., Vince, A., Isham, L., & Meropol, S. B. (2015). Polypharmacy in the elderly. Journal of research in pharmacy practice , 4 (2), 85. 

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 15). Polypharmacy and the Elderly: Risks and Benefits .


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